India’s Tata gets bullish on e-commerce despite possible market transformation

India’s Tata Group is taking a more vocal interest in rules shaping online marketplaces, hinting at ambitions as it reappraises its retail strategy just as e-commerce reform threatens to muddy plans.

The $106 billion conglomerate yet e-commerce minnow was far more vociferous in discussions than market leader Inc at a July 3 meeting with government officials about proposals such as the prohibition of sales of own-brand or affiliates’ goods, attendees said.

The rules would greatly increase the compliance burden of a conglomerate’s numerous entities and interests, and hurt them far more than smaller rivals, Tata Vice President Poornima Sampath told the online gathering, according to two attendees.

Two weeks earlier, the government spooked the industry by proposing increased scrutiny of relationships between online marketplace operators and their partners. The plan was widely regarded as an attempt to curb the dominance of Amazon and Walmart Inc’s Flipkart and support high-street shops.

The 153-year-old Tata conglomerate is ubiquitous on Indian high streets, so its voice in favour of e-commerce at the July 3 meeting indicates the degree to which it is changing tack.

The firm is arguably best known internationally as owner of British luxury car brand Jaguar Land Rover, but it also makes cars at home under its own brand. The group is also active in steelmaking, IT outsourcing, and hotel and airline operation.

In retail, Tata has an expansive offline portfolio including a joint venture with cafe operator Starbucks Corp and stores it operates for Inditex fashion brand Zara. Yet it is a minor player online – a situation it is determined to rectify, said five people with direct knowledge of its plans.

It bought the majority of online grocer BigBasket in May for over $1 billion and in June took control of online pharmacy 1mg. They will likely join other marquee brands on an app that Tata aims to pilot this year, said three of the people.